When Jonas brought home his report card, he wasn't eager to show it to us. He didn't hide it, he just left it for us to discover on our own. It wasn't in the envelope when we found it and a quick scan revealed why he might have preferred us not to see it. The scale on this report isn't number marks but "Needs Improvement", "Satisfactory", "Good" and "Excellent." All but one of his marks were "Satisfactory". The lone mark, his Science and Technology mark, usually his best subject, showed "Needs Improvement". While he's never had only one "NI" before, he's also never not had any "Good" marks before. He was teary eyed when he told me that his marks were the worst in the class. I hugged him, kissed his head, and asked him if he's trying his best. "Yeah, but it's terrible. Just terrible." It broke my heart.
Steve and I were looking forward to meeting with his teachers to get some feedback and try to help him chart a more positive course ahead. Imagine our disappointment when we realized that this term, Jonas's school decided to replace Parent - Teacher interviews with student-led Student - Parent conferences, which would be moderated by the teacher. We wouldn't get any one-on-one time with the teachers this round but it would be a chance for him to show off his accomplishments. We can talk to the teachers any time so we changed our expectations for the night and went in looking forward to letting him show us what he's done so far this year.
We weren't sure what to expect but what an eye opener it was! Of course, we doted on his strengths and accomplishments, praising him for his efforts and improvement, and he delighted in showing us the stuff he's proud of. He also expressed considerable frustration and discouragement about the stuff he's struggling with, almost coming to tears a few times as he pulled something out. "Please don't look at this one" came out of his mouth more than a couple of times.
The night shed more light on the challenges he's facing and exactly how far behind he his from where he "should" be:
- The night began with a very nervous Jonas introducing us to his teacher. (Yes, we've already met but these conferences we as much about teaching the kids a bit about public speaking as they were about us finding out how he's doing in school.) Presentations have always been a battle nerves for Jonas, and it would seem that talking to mom and dad in the classroom setting is no different. One consequence of him getting nervous is that his speech disfluency is more pronounced and he has a harder time saying what he's trying to say. His teacher is committed to giving him enough time in the class room to finish his thoughts but it's impacting his performance in presentations because he cuts himself short out of frustration and embarrassment. The upside is that the kids in his class do not pick on him for the way he speaks and stand up for him when anyone outside their class does.
- His handwriting is a mess. He's been officially diagnosed with a learning disorder called "dysgraphia" so seeing his work wasn't entirely a surprise. What was a bit of a shock was seeing how pervasive this challenge is for him. Illegible writing, a mixture of upper and lower case letters, no spacing between words or letters, no regard for the borders of the page, writing on random pages.... He's a smart kid who's full of wonderful thoughts and ideas but he can't get them out on the paper. This is doubly challenging given his speech disfluency. One of the strategies for dealing with his speech issues is writing things down so he can read them, but....
- Jonas has a hard time concentrating and staying focused, including reading instructions on tests and assignments. All of his tests have started great on the first few questions and then gone down from there. Staying focused requires a great amount of effort, as does writing or typing the answers. When those two things are on-track, it slows down the entire process. The answers may come out right but he runs out of time and starts to rush. He's getting frustrated with this and his marks are getting progressively worse with each test. He's aware that the other kids are getting better marks than him and that adds to the pressure he puts on himself. It's a vicious circle.
- He's having a hard time grasping concepts in math, science and language. His teachers say it's like he gets lost in the middle of lessons, activities and independent practice time.
- He has trouble making friends with kids his own age. He's not as mature as they are, doesn't think the same way, doesn't pick up on social cues and requires a lot more patience than they can muster. The result is that he thinks the other kids in his class don't like him and don't want to play with him. Sadly, he may be right. They're all for playing with him when he's got a toy or treat to share, but when he wants to join them, in a soccer game for example, it's a completely different story.
- His teacher describes him as a wonderful boy, with a lot of creativity and enthusiasm. She says the only thing that frustrates her is that he's stubborn as all get out and his ODD (Oppositional Defiance Disorder) gets the better of him some days. He doesn't listen and doesn't think things through, especially when his self-confidence needs a boost, like immediately after recess and lunch.
Despite the discouragement we felt walking out of the school that night, we were also bolstered by the fact that his teachers are patient and understanding. They are all trying to maintain a healthy balance between helping and accommodating his challenges, and teaching him personal responsibility for the things that are within his control. He is doing better in a lot of areas and he's also motivated to do better. Now we just need to work on shifting his focus from away from the marks he or the other kids get and back onto the effort he puts in. That and continuing to fight for the support services he needs both inside and outside the classroom.